ActivePaper Archive Nation must atone for past Indigenous wrongs: Abbott - The Age, 6/14/2020

Nation must atone for past Indigenous wrongs: Abbott


Tony Abbott’s bust in Ballarat.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott said he sympathised with local Black Lives Matter protesters and the country had ‘‘atoning to do’’ for past wrongs against Indigenous Australians, but he rejected suggestions they were unjustly policed or incarcerated.

Mr Abbott – who has had a career-long interest in Indigenous issues and was a special envoy on Indigenous affairs under Prime Minister Scott Morrison – said there was ‘‘no evidence’’ the court system discriminated against First Australians.

‘‘Obviously the Indigenous incarceration rate is much higher than the general incarceration rate,’’ he said. ‘‘That shouldn’t be so unless there’s evidence that courts are more likely to imprison Indigenous offenders than non-Indigenous offenders, and there is none.

‘‘The higher Indigenous incarceration rate is a function of the higher Indigenous offending rate. It is absolutely tragic. But we know that when it comes to domestic violence and a lot else, this is much worse in Indigenous communities than most parts of the country.’’

A bust of Mr Abbott in the Ballarat Botanical Gardens was graffitied yesterday, along with a bust of former Prime Minister John Howard.

The busts were wrapped after the attack.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released this month showed 4.7 per cent of Indigenous men were in prison, compared to the general male incarceration rate of about 0.4 per cent. Indigenous children are about 24 more times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous children.

Federal and state governments issued a draft target in December 2018 to reduce adult Indigenous incarceration by at least 5 per cent by 2028, but have never put it into formal agreement or action.

Mr Abbott said he understood protesters’ desire to show solidarity with African-American after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. But he was ‘‘cautious about reading too much into what’s happening now, certainly in Australia. I don’t think the history in this country is comparable.

‘‘While I don’t say that our history has been blemish-free, and obviously we have our own atoning to do, our history nevertheless has been different and I would say better than that of the US.’’

Mr Abbott said the appropriate response for those concerned about Indigenous incarceration was not to ‘‘despair’’ but ‘‘redouble one’s efforts to make a difference’’.

‘‘As I kept saying as PM, there are three things we’ve got to improve,’’ he said. ‘‘The kids have got to go to school, adults have got to go to work and communities have got to be safe. That’s to say: communities have got to be policed.’’